After strong performances in friendlies against Morocco and Uruguay, the United States men’s national team faces a new challenge as they begin their defense of their Nations League crown. Face-off with Grenada at Austin’s Q2 Stadium seems a doable task for the squad so Gregg Berhalter will be watching to see if his players are taking the game seriously in the Heat. It’s a mental test rather than a physical one, designed to discern the mentality of some fringe players in the squad at an important juncture.
Those involved in World Cup qualifiers may be safe but for the likes of Joe Scally, Sean Johnson, Haji Wright and others it’s just as important to see they can compete at Concacaf as it’s a different challenge. Wales and Iran are likely to sit deeper against the United States, so while these teams have a better roster than some of the teams the USMNT will face in Nations League play, some of the skills required to achieve wins, however , will be the same .
Here are our stories, how to watch the game, what to look out for and more:
How to see and odds
date: Friday 10 June | time: 10pm ET
location: Q2 Stadium – Austin, Texas
TV: No | Live broadcast: ESPN+
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1. Keep an eye on uncapped players
There are three players in the roster who have yet to enter an official Concacaf competition. Joe Sally, Haji Wright and Malik Tillman are all expected to get official caps in these upcoming Nations League games. Scally and Wright have a lot going for them as strong performances could put them on the Worlds list. The United States still need reinforcements at left-back and while Sergino Dest can play there in a pinch, more Scally who showed up against Morocco and fewer of those who played against Uruguay could give him an edge over George Bello as a direct Backup by Antonee Robinson.
Any striker who starts scoring could be in the starting XI for the World Cup opener against Wales in Qatar on 21 November. Whether it’s Wright or Jesus Ferreira, someone has to stand up and start scoring. It’s a great opportunity for those previously uncapped at the senior level. Tillman is one for the future, but tying him to the United States will do a lot to ensure the team’s present and future are in good hands as Berhalter continues to work the recruiting path well.
2. How to break up the low block
What the United States is trying to solve isn’t new, with many teams struggling to break through opponents’ low block. If you don’t have room to get behind a deep defensive form, picking the lock and finding the back of the net can be difficult. Grenada are expected to use low blocking as it’s a common tactic for unfavored teams to keep as many players behind the ball as possible to try and frustrate attackers.
Berhalter is looking for solutions for this, e.g Brenden Aaronson to play deeper in midfield and also the use of a back three in a build-up 3-5-2 formation with Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman and Reggie Cannon at center-back (more on center-back pairings below). Friday’s game will be a good time to see if that works in a competitive environment. With Weston McKennie still on the road to recovery, there’s no reason Aaronson can’t get the lion’s share of the minutes to prepare for his World Cup role.
3. Central pairings are key
Long and Zimmermann are develop chemistry and I could easily call them the starting pairing of centre-backs at the World Cup. If Berhalter starts the two together on Friday, it will show that he appreciates them getting minutes together regardless of opponents. If Erik Palmer-Brown is there, it could signal that the competition is more open. In my opinion, the only player who could make a fresh start at Long is Chris Richards, who is missing this camp through injury. Aside from the starting forward, the central pairing is one of the biggest questions for the team following Miles Robinson’s unfortunate Achilles tendon injury at the end of the season.
It will be a while before the USMNT finds the breakthrough, but once the first one hits the net it won’t be long before others will follow in what will prove to be an easy victory. Choose: United States 5, Grenada 0